Book Review: President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman by William Lee Miller
The author uses Lincoln as an example that statesmen are not born but made. Future young leaders can find inspiration
Any new book on President Lincoln will almost always beg the question, "Why?" In this follow up to Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, author William Lee Miller answers the question with an eloquent, yet easy to read 512-page analysis of Lincoln’s term in the White House and his actions as the Civil War president.
I’m not a scholar of Lincoln by any measure, but I have a small collection of books about him; half I consider garbage and the other half essential reading. Of course, it takes reading the essentials to find out which ones are really meant to be in the trash can, and Miller’s book is one of the essentials.
In President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, Miller reminds us of a time when the young nation was faced with a crisis, and how an inexperienced man by conventional standards was able to withstand and eventually exert his will in seeing the country through the Civil War. In this sense, he asserts that (using President James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, as one of his examples) experienced men do not necessarily qualify for the nation’s highest office. Instead, morals, kindness of heart, and raw intelligence are also qualifiers in the mix. There is a basic truth to this, and young leaders should take this to heart (President-elect Obama, are you listening?).
The book also tackles the art of statesmanship, that ever-ambiguous field in politics that so many try to inhabit. In the context of Lincoln’s time, Miller writes, statesmen were of noble blood, but Lincoln changed all that, having been a prairie lawyer and of poor family background but rising to the challenge by defeating all his critics, winning the Civil War and preserving the Union of the States. In this sense, you can argue that Lincoln invented the blueprints for the modern politician today.
President isn’t new on factual details, but delivers great insight on the shaping of Lincoln as a politician as he assumes office. The long-standing arguments and debates on whether the Civil War was over slavery, preserving the Union, or whether Lincoln was a dictator or not, shouldn't influence the way the reader interprets the author's intent. The book is supposed to be about Statesmanship, and thus should be treated as such.Mr. Miller writes with fluidity and a passion, and you are surely convinced by the first few pages that he is clearly pro-Lincoln. The President seems almost infallible in every decision he makes, and the skill of Miller’s writing almost convinces you that Lincoln might be more than mortal. If the reader can be discerning enough to steer clear of this bias, then President is required reading for Lincoln and Civil War buffs, and for those who seek to find meaning in what our everyday politician says.